Apple makes concessions to developers at annual conference

Apple made a series of under-the-radar announcements at its annual developer conference on Monday that could help address mounting criticism from regulators of anti-competitive behaviour.

Though none of the updates was discussed in any detail during Monday’s two-hour keynote, Apple said it would open up the iPhone and its other devices to rival apps in new ways, potentially countering complaints from the likes of music app Spotify and tracking accessory Tile.

Apple also said it would make changes to its app review process, which tightly controls what is allowed into the App Store, the iPhone’s only marketplace for software distribution outside of the web browser.

The concessions include allowing developers to challenge an Apple ruling that their app breached the store’s rules, after a very public row with the makers of email service Hey last week.

“Developers will not only be able to appeal decisions about whether an app violates a given guideline of the App Store Review Guidelines, but will also have a mechanism to challenge the guideline itself,” Apple said in a press release.

However, the iPhone maker did not address the issue of its 30 per cent App Store fees, which are behind many developers’ arguments with Apple.

Owners of Apple’s HomePod will also soon be able to control Spotify and other music apps directly from the speaker, instead of Apple Music. Spotify pointed to Apple’s preferential treatment for its own music service in its antitrust complaint to the European Commission, which launched an investigation last week.

However, Monday’s moves left Spotify wanting more.

“We are pleased that Apple finally seems to recognise the benefit of supporting third-party music services, and that their App Store review process is deeply flawed,” Spotify said. “Unfortunately, Apple has done nothing to change the underlying anti-competitive App Store guidelines, which have intentionally disadvantaged the developers of rival services like Spotify for far too long.”

In another change on Monday, makers of wireless tracking tags, which can be used to locate lost items, will be able to integrate with Apple’s “Find My” app. Last month, Tile accused Apple of abusing its power by adding new restrictions to iOS’s location tracking.

Users of the iPhone and iPad will now also be able to select email and web browsers made by companies other than Apple as the operating system’s default, bringing iOS into line with the way Google’s Android has operated for several years.

The change opens the door to greater uptake for alternatives to Apple’s Safari browser, such as Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft Edge or start-ups such as Brave and DuckDuckGo. It could also give a leg-up to email clients such as Gmail, Outlook, Superhuman and Spark.

The moves follow a challenge from Brad Smith, president at Microsoft, which was convicted of antitrust abuses for bundling its Internet Explorer browser with Windows 20 years ago. Mr Smith said last week that the “time has come” for deeper antitrust scrutiny of mobile app stores such as Apple’s.

Apple has previously argued in response to the EU commission’s investigation that the regulator is “advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies who simply want a free ride and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else”.

David Heinemeier Hansson, chief technology officer at Basecamp, which launched email app Hey last week and criticised Apple for its handling of the release, said the company’s proposed changes to its App Store review process were “pretty significant”.

“This is of course still Apple policing Apple, but it’s an opening none the less for all developers,” he said on Twitter. “That doesn’t erase the thousand open antitrust questions, but could give developers some livable conditions while those are answered.”